I’ll be honest: I have never been known for maintaining my dignity during a breakup. Breaking up with my emotionally withholding cheapskate college boyfriend took me about 57 tries and I suspect the breakup with my camp boyfriend has been set to music (with harmonica solo) and sung as a cautionary tale at Opening Campfire every year for those considering relationships with the boys across the lake.
I cling, I chase, I disappear, come back, am overcome with tenderness and nostalgia, try briefly to resurrect the original feelings. I make passionate speeches and write long letters and cry –my friends’ eyes bug out of their heads from listening to me process every interaction, every feeling (I have at least 34 feelings about something as simple as Honeycrisp apples; you can imagine how many I experience in a relationship). There is no holding my head high, tossing my hair over my shoulder and letting my happiness and success be my revenge. I let the loss wash over me, knock me down. I roll around in it for several months, burn through a preposterous rebound. Finally I take a long shower, go buy some gorgeous new underwear and high heels, change my hair and perfume and the music I listen to, and it’s over once and for all. Mine is not a pretty breakup method, but it is thorough; when I’m done, I’m done.
Turns out I act much the same when I’m breaking up with a house. Yesterday, while I was packing the kitchen, I stared into one of the empty cabinets for a while, trying to remember how I felt when I was moving things into it –before the washing machine flood, before Kyle’s first and only visit here the month before he died, before Caroline’s illness and all of the family fights and misunderstandings that naturally grow out of grief and fear. I suppose I must have felt hope and excitement about this house when I moved in, relief at having returned to my beloved Minnesota, to my friends and family after five years away. Truthfully, I don’t remember –I can’t resurrect those original feelings.
There is no holding my head high, tossing my hair over my shoulder and letting my happiness and success be my revenge. I let the loss wash over me, knock me down.
People have been asking me if I’m going to miss this house at all when I leave it. Maybe, but not right away. If anything, I imagine I will miss not liking it; for a writer, this friction between oneself and one’s surroundings is a creative blessing, like a grain of sand in an oyster. I worry about the kind of writing I will produce if I get too comfortable. I can’t imagine missing this house –I blame it for all of the pain I experienced while it was mine. I know that’s not fair or rational but I already told you, I don’t work that hard at being fair during a breakup.
Yet I am grateful to this house, I suppose, for being honest with me, even if it hurt. It showed me who I could depend on, who would come over and watch Henry and Lizzie when Caroline had an emergency EEG; who would come over and help me clean my house when I came home to a mess after Kyle’s memorial service; who would make me beautiful, thoughtful surgery-day care packages when Caroline got her tumor removed; who would listen and listen and listen and listen to the same topics I haven’t been able to resolve for YEARS; who would like or comment on every single blog post; who would encourage and lecture and hound me to write; who would walk me, step by step, through the ways in which she would nurture me if she could be with me after Kyle’s death and during Caroline’s illness; who would make me laugh at the parts I didn’t think I could laugh at; who would just love me and love me and love me no matter how many mistakes we both made.
I do not love this house, but I love what it has given me: clever, interesting, soulful guests, both real and virtual; a clear understanding of what I need to feel at home, no matter what else is going on in my life; a deeper, more authentic relationship with God; and a stronger, braver, wiser version of myself. I may have spent the last six years clinging, disappearing, making speeches, writing long letters, and crying, but I’m still here, still able to laugh and pray and hope and love my people. There’s plenty of dignity in that.